Carseats for the Carfree: Travel Vest vs. Backless Booster

A while back, we said we’d be picking up the Ride Safer Travel Vest (about $120 — careful, that link has really annoying music) for H and promised to report back. We got it, and then it sat around not getting used for a long time (nine months or so). Hence, no report.  But finally, we gave it a workout this fall, first on a trip H took with Grandma, and then on a trip to visit my family in Denver.

At first, we really thought we hit the jackpot. The travel vest was a carseat without being a seat! No big plastic thing to lug to the car! We could pack it in a suitcase! We were home free!

It was indeed very light, very portable, and just hangs in the closet out of the way most of the time since it it’s hardly ever in use.  I practically forgot we owned it for the first 9 months.  It works OK and we’ve had no real problems with install in any of the cars we’ve used (a random collection of rentals, carshares, relative’s cars and a shuttle van to/from a florida airport)

But (and you knew there was a but), I have some gripes. At first, my only gripe was that the fit seemed weirdly loose in the shoulders for something that is supposed to position a seatbelt over the shoulder, but it seemed OK, and at 4 years old, 40 pounds and 40 inches, H was solidly in the height/weight range (For the small: 3-6 years, 30-60 pounds, 34-52 inches) so we just went with it.

And at first, that was pretty much my only complaint, though H had plenty of her own.  She let us know (repeatedly) about the back of the vest riding up, her butt sliding down the seat, and how it was just so “cunfable” (that’s “uncomfortable” to those uninitiated into the joys of riding in a car with our daughter).  That child will happily sit on an open bike in a freezing downpour, commenting merrily on the depth of the puddles or the possible length of the storm, but suddenly it’s like the princess and the pea when she gets in a car, so we thought nothing of the reports and were just glad not to have to strap in two carseats, and glad that we hardly ever drive. But then, during our trip to Denver, H got to try her cousin’s cheap graco backless booster (like this one, $25). Here are a few snippets from the report from the backseat:

“Mama! Look at that! I can see almost half of all the things! I bet I can see even more than you! What are those?  Oh!  Those are the mountains!  Wait. Mama. Are we driving through a forest? (we weren’t, it was a park with a few trees in it) Oh Mama! My tummy doesn’t hurt! And I can keep my bum scooted back!…”

When we arrived at our destination, H popped out of the car and said, “Mama, we should really stick with this one.  You tell Ima OK?”

So. There you have it. H’s review of the Ride Safer Travel Vest vs. Graco backless booster. The booster wins.

As for me, I felt more confident on the booster belt positioning and install, partially because, as H reports, she did a better job keeping herself scooted back on the seat (because it’s sized to fit a kid’s legs). We also knew H was prone to motion sickness, but hadn’t realized just how much being able to see out a side window would help with that. Yes, it’s another piece of plastic, and harder to fit in a suitcase, but we’ll be forking over our $25 bucks to get one.

I really wish the travel vest had panned out. It seems like it should be the perfect solution for the carfree parent. But at least in our hands, for our kid, it just doesn’t make the grade.

Disclosure: No one gave us any products, money or anything to write this post. If they had, I might have been nicer.

About Nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
This entry was posted in Car sharing, Child-related issues, Problems and issues. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Carseats for the Carfree: Travel Vest vs. Backless Booster

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  2. Cindy says:

    The main reason the travel vest looks tempting to me is in case of emergency — like we’re out somewhere and need to get a cab home or need a ride home from a friend when we had planned to walk. In those cases, when use of car hadn’t been anticipated, it would be nice to just have the vest in our bag just in case. But not for $120. :-)

  3. Kat says:

    Ugh. Give H my sympathies regarding the motion sickness thing. My only recommendation is looking as far forward as possible really does help (static landscape is good).

    ~Kat, who had many _many_ car trips and close to two decades before she got over the worse of her carsickness

  4. Alex Dupuy says:

    The backless boosters are too big to fit in a suitcase, but they are really quite light and on a number of occasions I’ve needed to tote it along (as a ped, and riding my non-cargo bike) and it was perfectly easy to just hook the arms of the booster into straps on the outside of a small daypack. Even if the travel vest was the same price, I kind of doubt I would really manage to always have it with me – I tend to prefer to travel light even with my daughter – if I know I might need a ride it’s really not much harder to carry a backless booster along.

  5. Estelle says:

    Another option you might want to consider is a Safeguard GO (now rebranded under Safety 1st/Cosco It’s super lightweight, barely bigger than a backless booster, and has a harness. It requires an upper tether, though (and, though it can be installed with belt+ tether, the belt install is very difficult, so I’d want to use lower anchors instead of the belt if possible). I use it every time we fly somewhere (obviously can’t be used on the plane) and love it.

  6. Bus Chick says:

    Thanks for the review, Dorea.

    Funny, I just ordered one of these, and it arrived today–a couple of hours after I read this post. My son has graduated from the infant seat (and the friends who lent it to us needed it back), so we decided to move my daughter, who’s 3 and 31-ish pounds, to something for bigger kids and give hers to him.

    I was starting to think I made a mistake with the vest. She’s on the low end of the age and weight range, it’s much more expensive than a booster, and it’s not really that much smaller/lighter. I wouldn’t, for example, carry it around in my bag just in case. (It wouldn’t help me much to do that, anyway, since my son still needs a seat.) Now that I’ve read this, I’m pretty much sure I made a mistake. Ah, well! It seems that my decision-making style requires me to buy something before I realize that I really needed something else.

    The good thing is, we can bring it with us when we visit my husband’s family, and if one parent ever has to get both kids to a Zipcar, it will come in handy. (We finally have one of those travel roller things for car seat.) But, I’m thinking I might borrow a booster from someone to see which one she likes better.

  7. Bus Chick says:

    OK, I think I got ahead of myself. In my eagerness to dispense with enormous, plastic contraptions that take up a huge amount space in our home (especially compared to the amount they are used), I probably jumped the gun on the vest. (We returned the infant seat we borrowed for our son and DID NOT want to buy another huge seat.) Despite the fact that my three-year old meets the minimum weight and height for the vest (and for some backless boosters), my research (prompted by the horrified reactions of many of the parents on the neighborhood list serve to which I sent a request to purchase a used backless booster) indicates that high-back boosters are a safer option for kids as small as mine.

    Dang. Oh well.

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